Archive for: July, 2011

long weekend

Jul 28 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

That's right, I'm gonna take one. Me and the family are going to head out into the wilderness for a long weekend of camping awesomeness! See you all in August πŸ™‚

2 responses so far

let's talk about...

Jul 27 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Science, of course!

I remember the first science talk I gave as a wee graduate student. Oh, the redness of my face. The unsteadiness of my voice. WEEKS of preparation leading up to 10 minutes of pure adrenaline. Good times.

Since that day I have given at least...well, I actually have no idea how many talks I have given. Lots. Really, getting up in front of people to talk about your work is a really important part of being on the tenure track. Most of the time that you talk about science you will be speaking to other scientists. And it is important that you be able to do this. But you already knew that.

You may also have the opportunity to speak to non-scientists about your research. You could be asked to give a pitch to potential donors, trying to convince them to give your lab (or institution) some money. Or maybe you are giving a talk to the general pubic as part of an outreach program. Either way, your goal is the same. You need to distill the essence of what you do down to a perfectly-balanced grappa. Your talk needs to get people excited about your research and make them understand why it is important. These talks can seem difficult, but I think they are actually great fun! And I would argue they are just as important as talking to other scientists. After all, if you are funded by the federal government, then the taxpayers are paying the bills. It is part of our job as scientists to make sure that they understand that what they are buying is important and valuable.

When you are going to talk to an audience of non-scientists, you will want to prepare your talk a little differently than a seminar or talk at a conference. If you are going to sell science to a general audience, the normal formula of AWESOME DATA + MORE AWESOME DATA + FREAKING AWESOME DATA may not be the way to go. Instead, you have to step back and build a compelling case for why what you do is important. And really, can't we all use a little more of this even interspersed amongst all our FREAKING AWESOME DATA?? (I say yes!) This is part of the reason, IMO, that speaking to non-scientists can be a great way to become a better speaker in general and even improve your ability to speak for other scientists.

If you re thinking that maybe you should try this whole "talking to the non-scientist" thing, then I have aΒ  couple of tips for you: First (and most obvious): NO JARGON. This is way harder than it sounds. You may not even realize that you ARE using jargon. The last time I spoke to non-scientists I dropped "tumor suppressor". I was lucky that someone in the audience asked me for a definition. The only way to do this is lots of practice. Try words out on your parents or random people you know that aren't in science. You might be surprised what is jargon! For instance: aliquot. Apparently not part of normal vernacular. Second: use metaphors (that may not be the right word, but dammit I am a freakin' scientist!). They work. For example: here is a version of one of my favorite ways to describe how geneticists and biochemists approach problems. Try to get people in your audience familiar with the concept using a non-threatening example, then make the connection to how that applies to what you are interested in. Third: don't show data slides. Yes, this is sad (and hard). I love data just as much as the next person. But the data can not save you here. You have to be able to say what the important finding is without getting technical. If your data can take the form of a really striking image (and you can refrain from talking about it too much) this can be an exception. Fourth: Have slides with pictures, but not words. Really, they should be like wallpaper behind you. Something cool or interesting to look at but that doesn't distract from what you are saying. Fifth: end your talk early so there is plenty of time for questions. In fact, try to structure your talk so that there are obvious questions to be asked. The goal is to have a conversation between you and the audience. What you say is most important to get everyone comfortable and thinking about the same thing so that you can have a good discussion. Bring the audience along with you, so that they can feel engaged in the discovery process.

I really hope that if you, my fellow scientists, are given an opportunity to talk to non-scientists that you take it. This is the first step to stop some of the ridiculous attacks on science from groups like the TVC or idiots like Coburn. We need to get folks psyched about the awesomeness that is doing science. But we can't do that if we are all sitting in the lab.




h/t to David Kroll, who suggested that I write a post about this when we were chatting a while back πŸ™‚

12 responses so far

Adventures in Grant Land

Jul 22 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

I have just finished writing my first-ever NSF grant. Now that it is submitted it has a slightly-higher-than-zero chance of being funded. Fingers crossed and all. First things first, if you are going to be writing an NSF grant you should start by reading the excellent advice from Odyssey.

Now, I'm more used to the NIH as a granting agency. So there were some NSF...peculiarities, let's say, that I noticed and found amusing. FOR EXAMPLE: you don't get to know who is going to review your grant. At NIH you can find the study section roster online and know who your audience is going to be. I find this reassuring. But for NSF you submit a list of potential reviewers, as if you were submitting a manuscript. Apparently the Program Officer could call upon these folks, or potentially someone else, to review your grant. But you never know. There may be some methods to slueth out who is reviewing your grant*. So, I have just thrown my EVER SO AWESOME grant to an unknown pack of wolves **.

The NSF also requires that you write a Data Management Plan that outlines what kind of data you are going to collect, how you are going to archive and disseminate it, etc. PLS has a much better description with useful advice and everything. When I was trying to figure this bit out, I did however, run across this most excellent and apparently frequently asked question on the NSF web site:

HI, I would like some $$ to NOT generate data or samples. Kthnx.

Now, before you get all crazy on me, I get that you could be writing to fund a conference or something. I just find this question amusing, all out-of-context. You will also need a post-doc mentoring plan. But if you have thought at all about what a postdoc should be getting out of being a postdoc this isn't so difficult. Also, for both of these you may find that your MRU has guidelines and helpful tips online (thanks, MRU!) If your MRU hasn't gotten around to this, you could always use the google to find someone who has πŸ™‚

Another thing that became obvious during the writing of this grant are some serious deficiencies in MS Word. First of all, there should be a "recall text box" command. MORE THAN ONCE I lost a text box while trying to get figures put into the damn file. Someone on twitter actually recommended that I use this command and I went looking for it, only to find out that it doesn't exist (thanks, Namnezia! grrr). There should also be a command that organizes a random list of thoughts/experiments into coherent aims. This is more advanced, which may require a plug-in of some sort. Or maybe there should just be a grant-writing robot. That would be OK, too.

FINALLY, since it is Friday, I thought I would share with you some of my super-fun emails that I am just finally catching up on. First, I have apparently been tenured, only 5 years early!

My MRU really needs to check their mailing lists, methinks.

Second, I have a fall-back plan if this (and all the others I am dreaming of writing) don't fly thanks to the kind soul that sent me this email:


Thanks to everyone who kept me company and offered moral support as I was doing this. You know who you are!

Have a great weekend! πŸ˜€

*it was brought up on the twitter that sometimes around NSF review meetings your lab website will get a lot of hits from new places. This may reflect who is reading/reviewing your grant, so if you are looking at your analytics then you may be able to guess who your reviewers are. It was also proposed that you could also go for some pity-points by adding a video to your website with pictures of cute children and small furry animals that might not make it without funding for your lab (sneaky secret panel slueth strategy via Namnezia, video idea added by Cackle of Rad, my most-awesome conspirator in this whole grant-writing thing).

**if any NSF reviewers are reading this, I <3 you.

6 responses so far

Emily is right! Quit using "gay" as a slur, FFS.

Jul 18 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

EVERYONE should go read this fantastic post by Emily Hauser. Like right now.

It has really been bothering me about how easy it has seemed for people to ridicule Marcus Bachmann. Because he is clearly "gay" and therefore a hypocrite. But all the pointing and laughing seems to me that it is a predicated, at least partly, on the fact that it is "wrong" to be gay. WTF, people. Here, Emily says it better than me:

However, when society at large starts to giggle at a man’s lisp, or limp-wristed dance moves, even if it’s in an effort to point out possible hypocrisy β€” even if it’s in an effort to point out pernicious, dangerous hypocrisy in a politically powerful figure β€” we are not helping to solve the problem. We are, in fact, perpetuating it.

Maybe he is gay, maybe he is not. All I know for sure is he is a hateful idiot. But can we please get past using gay as a fucking slur?

Seriously, go read the whole post, it is awesome. Also, if you are on twitter and you don't follow @emilyhauser you are missing out.


edited to fix broken link

14 responses so far

turning over all the stones

Jul 17 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

When you start our on the tenure-track, one of the first things that you start doing is chasing money. In my MRU you need to get an R01 to get tenure. In this situation, it may seem that the obvious thing to do start sending grants to the NIH ASAP! Now, if you have a project that is ready to go, then I say DO IT! In this situation, it's easy to fixate on federal money from the NIH or NSF. It is what you are probably the most familiar with. But there are a lot of other places to get cash, especially as a new assistant professor. Sure, these grants are NOT the same as an R01. They are not as big and probably don't count as much for tenure. But money is money, and someone is going to take it home. Shouldn't it be you? 100K here, 50K there, another 20K over here and before you know it you can cobble together some reasonable support. Just using these mechanisms, in my first year I have already raised almost 100K from these small grants, and have another 150K for the next year.

I'm not advocating for you to resort to crowd-source funding your science. I'm talking about pilot grants and private foundations.

Pilot grants are great. They are short (usually 1 year) awards that are designed to enable you to get some preliminary data. Often times they have a special soft spot for new investigators. These are generally local, so you will have to search around to find any that might be open to you. But if you find one, apply! The applications are usually short and you don't need much data in hand.

Private foundation awards can be local sponsors, disease-specific associations (American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association, for example) or the more familiar "named fellowships" (Searle, Pew, Burroughs Welcome, Ellison, Damon Runyon, etc.). These grants may require that only one or two applicant from each MRU can be submitted, which means you will have to be selected by a mysterious group at your MRU before you are allowed to submit an application. There may also be other private foundations in your area that will support research relevant to their mission. Don't overlook these options!

It is really important when applying for these grants that you read all the instructions before you start writing. It is really important that you KNOW WHAT THE GRANTING AGENCY IS LOOKING FOR. Read the mission statement, and address how your work will further this mission explicitly in your application. Unlike the NIH and NSF, where you can talk with a program officer before submitting a grant, you may not be able to get much pre-submission feedback (especially for the named fellowships). Try to find out who makes the decisions and see if you can talk to them. If that is not possible, find out what they have funded in the past. If you know someone that has some of their money, call them up to pitch your project. They may be able to give you some feedback about how well your narrative fits with what the agency likes, and perhaps even some tips about what you can do to best sell your work.

These grants may be kinda small or short. But when you are starting out, every little bit helps. There is also a saying: "Money follows money". I don't know if getting these smaller awards will help you land bigger fish in the future. But showing that you can get independent funds and manage grants certainly can't hurt.


h/t to Genomic Repairman who originally proposed the subject for this post

8 responses so far

101* tips to be a super-efficient academic

Jul 13 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

1. Don't answer email. Seriously, just don't. The minute you send a response to an email that will tell someone that you are ready for another email. And then you will have even MORE emails to answer. It is a vicious circle, and the only escape is to never answer an email. If someone really wants to talk to you they will stop by your office.

2. Don't answer the phone. You know it is just a sales rep that wants you to buy a $5000 "service contract" on your $7000 refrigerated incubator.3. Don't learn how the voicemail system works. It is arcane and stupid. And besides, you really don't care what the message says anyway.

4. DO keep bourbon (or another suitable liquor) in your office. Then when you need a drink you won't have to go far.

5. DO get a big computer screen. At least 32". You want to be able to have multiple browser windows and documents going at the same time.

6. Don't write blog posts when you should be working on grants/manuscripts/etc. [ed: DAMMIT!]

7. Don't run track workouts in the morning after not getting enough sleep. You will spend your entire day staring blankly out the window. And also you'll be hungry all day. True story. [ed: DAMMIT!]

8. DO blast music in your office. This will allow you to easily ignore the folks that you don't want to talk to anyway.

9. If you have had a browser window open for more than 2 days, just close it. You will never read that page. And anyway it's out of date by now anyway.

10. read ALL the instructions before you start writing the grant

11. wait 2 days after reading reviews before starting to write rebuttals to reviewer comments

12. make lists. But if you have to make lists about where your lists are, then you are doing it wrong. Know also that no amount of "productivity software" will ever actually make you more productive.


And there you have it. Now get back to work!


22 responses so far

open letter for the women

Jul 12 2011 Published by under Uncategorized


You know you have questions about being a woman in academia. AND, I bet many of them don't have anything to do with your ability to have children. NOW is your chance to get these questions answered by a super panel of kick-ass women scienstist! Our very own Hermitage is now accepting questions for her Wimminz in Academia, now with 100% Fewer Babies panel. so mosey on over that way and leave your questions in the comments!

No responses yet

I haz indirects, and so can you!

Jul 11 2011 Published by under academia, jr faculty, lab management, on the job training

This post was inspired by BiochemBelle, who started a discussion on the Twitterz the other day about indirects. One of the things that you get to do (a lot) as a new PI is fucking with accounting deal with your lab budgets. This means that you will learn all sorts of uninteresting things about how the money gets spent. Here is (to the best of my knowledge) how indirects work.

Indirects are the money that your institution uses to "support" your grant.Β  I don't really know what this money is supposed to do, but I assume that it helps pay the rent, keep the AC running and the lights on, and other shit like that. Indirect rates are negotiated by each institution with the granting agencies. But, since every grant given to a specific MRU I really don't know who is negotiating with who. But whatever, I digress.

Indirects are charged to your grant based on what you use the money for. For most NIH grants, you are awarded a sum of money, the direct costs, and the university gets their indirects on top of that amount. The direct costs are the money that your lab actually gets to spend on salaries, supplies and equipment. If your indirect rate is 50% and you get a grant for $100,000 (direct), the institute will actually get $150K (yes, the numbers were chosen for easy math). Your lab spends 100K, MRU takes $50K. Win-win. But, SOME agencies (and even some NIH grants-like the K99/R00) award TOTAL costs. This means that if you get a $100K grant, MRU takes 50K and you get 50K direct. See, that is a lot different! So, make sure you know if you have been awarded TOTAL costs or DIRECT costs.

Indirect rates can vary a lot. The lowest I've heard is around 50%, the highest can be over 100%. YOU READ THAT RIGHT. There are institutions in which if you get awarded a 100K total costs grant that you will have to pay the institute indirects from another source. How cool is that?

There are some other awesome subtleties. For instance, you do not pay indirect costs for equipment. At least at my MRU, equipment is anything that is not a consumable, is expected to last the duration of the grant and costs more than 5K. Most everything else is supplies or salaries, and is charged overhead. There are also crazy rules about office supplies, computers and software that I don't understand yet. So I'm not going to try to explain it. It is an advanced accounting maneuver.

Another interesting tidbit: if you buy equipment off an NIH grant and then you leave to go somewhere else you may be able to take your equipment with you. HOWEVER, if you use your startup funds then it is the property of the MRU and you could be forced to leave it behind. I know that none of us n00bs on the TT want to think we will have to go on the job market again soon, but still. Now you know.

There you go, a primer for indirects. Please not that this is based on my experience at my MRU. YMMV. I hope you took notes. This WILL be on the exam.


Leave your answers in the comments. Don't bother showing your work. Nothing matters except the correct answer.

Practice Question 1: you want to buy a box of pipet tips for your lab, which costs $10. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

Practice Question 2: you also wanted to buy a pipeting robot (those exist, right? please tell me those exist) that costs $10K. Your indirect rate is 70%. How much do you pay in indirects?

51 responses so far

Women scientists that give awesome seminars

Jul 06 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

One of the committees that I sit on is the seminar committee. I generally like this as service work goes, because it gives me some say in what seminars I will be sitting through the next year, provides an opportunity for me to network, and doesn't actually take that much time. Usually just one meeting to go through lists of speakers that have been proposed by other faculty members, and then go to a few dinners during the seminar series. I'm OK with that, really I am!

This year when we were putting together the list of speakers, I noticed that there very few women (4/22). I brought this up to the rest of the committee and was pretty quickly swatted down. I was told that "we don't need to have ALL women", and then the conversation went on as though I hadn't said anything. Being the only untenured person in the room, I didn't really push the issue further.

Anyway, later that day I was asked to add another 2-3 folks to the list. I figured that they should all be women. Women that give EXCELLENT talks. So I went to twitter and asked the tweeps to start throwing out names of women that do kick-ass science and can rock a seminar (we used the #xxtalk hashtag). Here is the list of what we came up with*. I have included extra information that was provided by twitter.

from the #xxtalk twitter stream, in no particular order:
Anna Marie Cuervo (Albert Einstein)
Bonnie Bassler (Princeton)
Jennifer Lippencott-Schwartz
Michelle Swanson
Frances Brodsky
Rachel Green (JHMI)
Nicola Clayton (spacial memory in scrub jays)
Angela Christiano (Columbia)
Erica Rosenblum (color evolution in desert lizards)
Leslie Voshall
Anne Brunet (Stanford)
Susan Lindquist
Rebecca Heald
Liz Miller (Columbia)
Phoebe Stewart

Please add your own suggestions in the comments, and we'll make this a handy archive forever!


*I haven't seen all these women speak (yet), so I can't personally vouch for them.

42 responses so far

Happy Day!

Jul 01 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

As of today, I have been in my tenure-track position for ONE FULL YEAR!!!

My, how time flies when you are having fun πŸ™‚ This first year has been exciting, exhausting, terrifying, frustrating, exhilarating, and just all-around AWESOME! So far, the lab seems to be clicking and even picking up steam. I have pulled in some research funding, got some peeps in the lab, submitted one manuscript (it has pd advisor on it, but I'm senior so that counts!). I've also had my share of freak-outs, late nights, and bad days. Wouldn't trade it for the world!

Next year will be even more intense, I suspect. I plan to submit my first (and maybe second?) R01, and will start picking up some teaching. In addition to the other grants, managing students, etc, etc.

Thanks to everyone that has been through this first year with me. Walking into an empty lab can be kinda overwhelming and you all have been a great source of support and camraderie. I hope that you all stick around to see how the next year goes. I'm sure that it will be entertaining πŸ™‚

Have a great weekend! Happy Canada Day to my Northern friends, and Happy 4th of July to you other USians.

14 responses so far